Sunday, September 28, 2008

Snitch who walked for his testimony turned out to be real killer, rapist; prosecutor became judge, and soon elected DA

As DNA evidence sorts out errors made in old cases, sometimes it also reveals examples of official misconduct from decades past, in this case by a lawyer who's about to become elected District Attorney in Cooke County, a rural county along the Oklahoma border (Gainesville is the county seat).

The prosecutor in question cut a deal for the testimony of Gerald Pabst back in 1986 to gain his assistance prosecuting rape-murder charges against his brother-in law, Clay Chabot. This fact was never disclosed to the defense, but last year DNA evidence proved Pabst himself was the rapist, and last week Pabst was convicted of the murder, though Chabot may still be recharged.

However Chabot's case turns out, it's fascinating the way DNA evidence sheds light on the the specific causes of wrongful convictions. In this instance, the prosecuting attorney failed to disclose information about a snitch-and-you-walk deal with Pabst in which she agreed to drop all charges against him in exchange for his testimony.

Given that Pabst actually committed the crime, that would have been a hard deal to pass up! That observation, of course, points directly to the problems with allowing such compensated testimony in court without corroboration or vetting the informant's reliability.

To bring the story full circle, the prosecutor whose misconduct was identified in the Pabst case went on to become a Dallas County judge and is about to win an unopposed election to become an elected DA. The Dallas News Crime Blog picked up this tidbit from the Pabst murder trial coverage:

The prosecutor who withheld the evidence is Janice Warder, also a former Dallas County judge. She is running unopposed next month to become Cooke County's District Attorney.

A murder charge was dropped against Mr. Pabst after he testified in 1986, but last year prosecutors filed a capital murder charge after DNA tests showed Mr. Pabst was the rapist.

Judge Mike Snipes recommended in March a new trial for Mr. Pabst's brother-in-law, Clay Chabot. He said that Ms. Warder withheld information that would have helped Mr. Chabot at trial.


Anonymous said...

This is possibly the best example of the pitfalls of snitch reliance. If this isn't the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, I don't know what will be!!!

Anonymous said...

It's time to make withholding evidence a criminal offense. I recall reading recently where the Dallas DA was pushing a bill to do that. That will probably be tough to get passed because most of the prosecutors in the state will fight it. It is something that needs to happen. It's time that dishonest prosecutors start facing jail time for their deliberate misconduct. That's the only way to put a stop to this kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's a little premature for a recall election in Cooke County huh? You know all the folks goint to trial in that court will be talking to themselves about ethics, integrity and fairness throughout the proceedings and at verdict time. Too bad for Cooke County and the individual who got less than what justice would demand. Does the bar association have any rules against this type of thing?

Anonymous said...

Yes, the bar has rules against it, they're called ethics, which seem to be in short supply in the Texas Criminal system.

Anonymous said...

I had the "pleasure" of trying a case in Cooke County about 10 years ago and all I can say is that this is exactly the kind of justice I would expect to happen there, where the judge was a rubberstamp of the D.A. and the all-white juries did whatever the D.A. wanted them to do. But thank God for the Fort Worth Court of Appeals.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

I guess no one in the Cooke County DA's office heard about that Brady case, either.

Paul B. Kennedy
Attorney at Law

Anonymous said...

Here in Smith County we have Judge Jack Skeen, Jr. (241st district court). As DA Skeen withheld evidence in what has been called the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct in the country (Kerry Max Cook). Misconduct and unethical behavior in the Smith County DA's office under Jack Skeen was documented in a series of articles in the Houston Chronicle in 2000. Yet the governor's office still saw fit to appoint him to vacant district judge seat. Now we are stuck with him because no one has the guts to run against the political machine in this county. As a judge he doesn't even try to hide his bias in favor of the prosecution. A defendant in his court has a slim chance of getting a fair trial.

Anonymous said...

If the State Bar revokes their license wouldn't they automatically not be able to sit as judge or hold a job as DA?

123txpublicdefender123 said...

The idea that Jack Skeen is a judge is an outrage. He should have been disbarred for his repeated, intentional, egregious misconduct in the Cook case--which, of course, put an innocent man on death row.

FYI re: the case Grits posted about. Just to be clear, the case was in Dallas County, not Cooke County, when Warder was a prosecutor in the ethically challenged Dallas DA's Office. She went on to be a judge in Dallas County until she was defeated in the Democratic sweep that also swept Craig Watkins into office as DA. Cooke County is where she is now apparently going to be the DA.